Pathologic changes and distribution of viral antigen as determined by immunohistochemistry were compared among 4-wk-old specific-pathogen-free chickens inoculated intratracheally with avian influenza virus (AIV) isolates of either low or high pathogenicity. Viruses of low pathogenicity, previously characterized as mildly pathogenic (MP), included A/chicken/Pennsylvania/21525/83 (H5N2) (MP-Penn) and A/chicken/Alabama/7395/75 (H4N8) (MP-Alab). Viruses of high pathogenicity included A/chicken/Pennsylvania/1370/83 (H5N2), A/chicken/Victoria/A185/85 (H7N7), and A/turkey/Ontario/7732/66 (H5N9). Extremely variable clinical signs ranging from mild respiratory distress to high mortality were present among chickens inoculated with these viruses. Chickens inoculated with highly pathogenic (HP) virus had histologic lesions of necrosis and inflammation in cloacal bursa, thymus, spleen, heart, pancreas, kidney, brain, trachea, lung, and skeletal muscle, whereas chickens inoculated with MP virus had histologic lesions most frequently in lung and trachea or lacked histologic lesions. Immunospecific staining for avian influenza viral proteins was most common in cells within heart, lung, kidney, brain, and pancreas of chicken inoculated with HP viruses, but immunospecific staining was present only and infrequently in trachea and lung of chickens inoculated with MP-Penn AIV. MP-Alab did not produce lesions nor have viral antigen in inoculated chickens but did produce serologic evidence of infection. The pattern of organ involvement and viral antigen distribution in chickens intratracheally inoculated with HP AIV isolates indicates a common capability to spread beyond the respiratory tract and confirms the pantrophic replicative, pathobiologic, and lethal nature of the viruses. However, variability in severity and lesion distribution exists between different HP AIVs. By contrast, MP viruses had the ability to replicate in respiratory or enteric tracts or both and produce lesions within the respiratory tract. These MP viruses exhibited a restricted ability to replicate or produce lesions or both in nonrespiratory or nonenteric tissues; such effects were associated with only sporadic deaths.